Farm Futures: International League Hitters Roundup

Farm Futures: International League Hitters Roundup

This article is part of our Farm Futures series.

Our tour of the minor leagues continues this week with a trip to the International League to look at what some notable Triple-A hitters have been up to over the first three weeks of the season. The prospects are listed in approximate order of their value in dynasty leagues.

(Side Note: The Top-200 prospect rankings will be updated on the site by the end of the week. Follow me on Twitter for an alert when those go live).

Trea Turner, SS, Syracuse (Nationals): .357/.430/.529, two HR, one 3B, four 2B, 6-for-6 on SB attempts, 13:9 K:BB in 70 AB.

Tim Anderson, SS, Charlotte (White Sox): .238/.238/.286, three 2B, 4-for-5 on SB attempts, 18:0 K:BB in 63 AB.

Comparing Turner and Anderson is an intriguing exercise, in that they have a ton in common, and are also quite different in terms of safety and upside. Let's start with the attributes they share. The two shortstops were born seven days apart, with Anderson being the slightly older 22-year-old. They are both listed at exactly six-foot-one, 185 pounds. Each player is coveted in dynasty leagues because they offer the promise of impact speed and a high batting average while qualifying at shortstop. Additionally, they are both at Triple-A and should reach the majors this season.

Turner is the safer bet, especially for 2016, for several reasons. First, he has the benefit of having sniffed the big leagues already (44 plate appearances last year), and he came into the year

Our tour of the minor leagues continues this week with a trip to the International League to look at what some notable Triple-A hitters have been up to over the first three weeks of the season. The prospects are listed in approximate order of their value in dynasty leagues.

(Side Note: The Top-200 prospect rankings will be updated on the site by the end of the week. Follow me on Twitter for an alert when those go live).

Trea Turner, SS, Syracuse (Nationals): .357/.430/.529, two HR, one 3B, four 2B, 6-for-6 on SB attempts, 13:9 K:BB in 70 AB.

Tim Anderson, SS, Charlotte (White Sox): .238/.238/.286, three 2B, 4-for-5 on SB attempts, 18:0 K:BB in 63 AB.

Comparing Turner and Anderson is an intriguing exercise, in that they have a ton in common, and are also quite different in terms of safety and upside. Let's start with the attributes they share. The two shortstops were born seven days apart, with Anderson being the slightly older 22-year-old. They are both listed at exactly six-foot-one, 185 pounds. Each player is coveted in dynasty leagues because they offer the promise of impact speed and a high batting average while qualifying at shortstop. Additionally, they are both at Triple-A and should reach the majors this season.

Turner is the safer bet, especially for 2016, for several reasons. First, he has the benefit of having sniffed the big leagues already (44 plate appearances last year), and he came into the year with 205 plate appearances under his belt at Triple-A. Anderson, meanwhile, is getting his first taste of Triple-A, and missed a week with a wrist strain earlier this season. He might be a week younger, but Turner is far more advanced as a player.

Another thing that jumps out in Turner's favor is the approach, as he has fewer strikeouts in more at-bats while also having nine walks to Anderson's zero. That said, looking back at last season, the two were quite similar, albeit at different levels of the minors. Turner had a 20 percent K-rate and 6.3 percent BB-rate in 48 games at Triple-A and Anderson had a 20.7 percent K-rate and 4.4 percent BB-rate in 125 games at Double-A. There's no denying that Turner is better positioned to have success in the big leagues this season, but a year or two from now, Anderson may have caught up or passed Turner as a fantasy option.

This dilemma actually reminds me of the Byron Buxton vs. Corey Seager decision I dealt with at the beginning of the season. The early returns suggest I was dead wrong in putting Buxton ahead of Seager, and if I look back and try to learn from that decision, the key takeaway is to not get greedy. Everyone knew that Seager was the safer bet of the two, but I ultimately went with Buxton's untapped potential and the dream of that ultimate ceiling. In every category that fantasy owners care about, I think Anderson has more long-term upside than Turner, but it's a slight edge, and the safety that Turner provides ultimately trumps Anderson's upside at this stage in their careers.

The Nationals can wait to call up Turner on May 29 and gain an extra year of control, factoring in his 44 days of service time last year. So late May or early June is the absolute latest Turner should get called up if he continues to dominate Triple-A pitching. Anderson will be up as soon as the White Sox think he's ready, which may not be all that soon, given how his approach appears to have taken a step back. Both are worth stashing in AL-only leagues with five or seven man benches, but Turner is the guy to own in mixers, as he has the look of a player who will be an impact fantasy hitter as soon as he gets the call this year.

Nick Williams, OF, Lehigh Valley (Phillies): .288/.318/.424, one HR, two 3B, one 2B, 2-for-2 on SB attempts, 14:4 K:BB in 59 AB.

The pop hasn't been there so far for Williams this year, but it will come. The most impressive thing about the 22-year-old outfielder's start is where his approach is through his first 16 games at Triple-A. Many familiar with his history may have expected him to be striking out a lot and not walking much in his first taste of the highest level of the minors, but his 21.2 percent K-rate and 6.1 percent BB-rate are perfectly fine for a guy like Williams, whose bread and butter is his hit tool. As long as he can maintain an approach like this, he will be able to get his above average power and speed into games at a clip that will allow him to approach 20/20 seasons in his prime. He could really benefit from a full season at this level, regardless of how much success he is having. There are better options to stash in single-season leagues.

Josh Bell, 1B, Indianapolis (Pirates): .300/.408/.550, three HR, one 3B, four 2B, 1-for-3 on SB attempts, 11:11 K:BB in 60 AB.

The Pirates' handling of Bell is the textbook way for an organization to develop a high-end hitting prospect. He has only been pushed up the ladder when his performance has dictated it, and instead of allowing themselves to be tempted to call up Bell in April, they brought in John Jaso to serve as a stop-gap. This way, Bell could move at the exact same pace he always has. The Pirates would be ready for him when he was ready for them. Of course, even the organization probably didn't expect him to get off to this kind of start, as he already has more homers in 16 games than he did in 35 games for Indianapolis at the end of last season. Bell is ready, and he's ready sooner than most people thought he would be. The Pirates may not be ready to take at-bats away from Jaso, who has already been worth half a win through 18 games, but they'll probably find room for Bell once the Super 2 date passes in late June.

Jesse Winker, OF, Louisville (Reds): .302/.387/.321, one 2B, 6:8 K:BB in 53 AB.

It's rare that a corner outfield prospect would be able to get off to an impressive offensive start at Triple-A while sporting a .019 ISO, but that's exactly what Winker has done. At 22 years old, he has a 12.9 percent BB-rate and 9.7 percent K-rate in his first 14 games at Triple-A, while also hitting over .300. He probably won't ever hit 30 homers in the big leagues, but as long as he hits 15-20, which his minor league numbers suggest he will be able to do, he'll be a staple near the top of the Reds lineup for years to come. Look for him to supplant the Adam Duvall/Scott Schebler platoon sometime this summer.

Aaron Judge, OF, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Yankees): .284/.306/.433, two HR, four 2B, 21:3 K:BB in 67 AB.

His approach needs a lot of work right now, but the contact he is making has been loud in his second go-round at Triple-A. I'm not sold that big league pitchers won't be able to use his six-foot-seven size against him, to the point that he may need to get sent back down after initially debuting either this year or next year, but the upside of a poor man's Giancarlo Stanton is difficult to ignore. His call-up date will hinge on the health of the Yankees' corner outfielders.

Gary Sanchez, C, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Yankees): .250/.311/.518, two HR, one 3B, seven 2B, 11:4 K:BB in 56 AB.

Like with Judge, Sanchez's call-up will hinge on the health of the player ahead of him on the Yankees' depth chart (Brian McCann). If Alex Rodriguez's struggles continue into June and the team wants to upgrade, Judge would probably be the guy to get the call, moving Carlos Beltran to DH, as they likely want Sanchez to continue to catch four or five times each week. That said, Sanchez appears to have the more big-league ready bat of the Yankees' top two prospects at Triple-A.

Sam Travis, 1B, Pawtucket (Red Sox): .306/.338/.458, two HR, five 2B, 19:4 K:BB in 72 AB.

Game power has been the only thing in question when projecting Travis as a big league first baseman, and so far in 2016, the returns have been promising. He is already halfway to matching the four home runs he hit in 65 games at Double-A last year, but he's predictably sacrificing walks and contact to get to that power. It will be interesting to follow his success throughout the season, but he still appears on track to be the Red Sox's starting first baseman for most of 2017.

Jose Peraza, SS/OF/2B, Louisville (Reds): .274/.328/.339, one 3B, two 2B, 1-for-4 on SB attempts, 11:5 K:BB in 62 AB.

It's pretty crazy that this guy doesn't turn 22 until the end of the month, as he's been on the radar in single-season leagues for over a year now and still hasn't exhausted his prospect eligibility. His 7.1 percent BB-rate represents a career best in the minors, but it's troublesome that he has struggled so far to steal bases against Triple-A battery mates. The Reds essentially gave up Todd Frazier for Peraza, so they are invested in him turning into an average (or better) regular starter up the middle. Right now, his best bet at realizing that potential would be to be recalled and deployed in center field, where he has started four of 15 games for Louisville this season. It should not have required a high pick to nab him in single-season drafts, and in shallower leagues it may be worth cutting bait, as it would be perfectly justifiable for the Reds to keep him down for most of his age-22 season.

Rio Ruiz, 3B, Gwinnett (Braves): .358/.411/.537, two HR, one 3B, four 2B, 17:6 K:BB in 67 AB.

Ruiz was the main piece in the trade that sent Evan Gattis to the Astros, and he may have been dropped in deeper dynasty leagues after posting just a .657 OPS at Double-A Mississippi last year. However, it was his age 20/21 season, and Mississippi is a notoriously difficult place to hit, so it's easy to chalk that up to a developmental year. He has been on fire in his first 18 games against Triple-A pitching, and while his .458 BABIP exposes his good fortune, this is still a hitter to watch in deeper leagues. An above-average hit tool and average or better power projection headlined the profile when Atlanta traded for him, and those attributes remain. The Braves may give him a look in the second half, especially if Adonis Garcia is still operating as a replacement-level player at third base.

Alen Hanson, 2B/3B/OF, Indianapolis (Pirates): .340/.375/.415, two 3B, 5-for-6 on SB attempts, 18:3 K:BB in 53 AB.

It's tempting to just throw out everything Hanson has done so far at Triple-A this season. His 31.6 percent K-rate is almost double his career norm, and he is batting over .500 on balls in play. The only thing worth noting is that he has gotten starts at second base, third base and left field, essentially serving as the Triple-A version of the role Josh Harrison used to play in Pittsburgh before he transitioned to a full-time second baseman this year. The Pirates have weathered the storm of playing a month without Jung-Ho Kang without utilizing Hanson, and now that Kang is close to being activated from the DL, it seems entirely possible that Hanson won't join the Pirates until September.

Andrew Knapp, C, Lehigh Valley (Phillies): .302/.400/.535, two HR, one 3B, two 2B, 14:6 K:BB in 43 AB.

Knapp's BABIP has been above .400 since he was promoted to Double-A halfway through last season, so it's hard to take his numbers seriously. Still, he has continued to hit at Triple-A, although he is striking out a lot more than he did last season. The smart money's on this being a mirage, but if he continues to hit he should get called up sometime this year, and is worth monitoring in deeper two-catcher leagues.

Steven Moya, OF, Toledo (Tigers): .306/.328/.613, five HR, four 2B, 13:1 K:BB in 62 AB.

Moya is second in the league in total bases (38), but like with Christian Walker below, that is to be expected for a player repeating the level who turns 25 in August. He deserves some props for cutting his K-rate to 20.3 percent, and if he can keep this up for another month or two it will be time to start taking notice, as his power has never been in question.

Christian Walker, OF, Norfolk (Orioles): .296/.342/.549, four HR, one 3B, four 2B, 21:4 K:BB in 71 AB.

At first glance it's impressive to see that Walker is leading the league in total bases (39), but at 25 years old and with 200 games at Triple-A under his belt, this is essentially what he should be doing. He still has the look of a Quadruple-A player, but now that he has been transitioned to left field full time, he has a better chance of getting another shot at the big league level once Joey Rickard remembers that he's Joey Rickard.

Daniel Robertson, SS/2B/3B, Durham (Rays): .241/.359/.333, one HR, two 2B, 14:8 K:BB in 54 AB.

Robertson is such a boring player for fantasy purposes. His number one skill is getting on base, but his hit tool is average, while his power and speed are fringe-average at best. Given his versatility, he could join the big league roster at some point, but he would have to really hit to be anything more than a utility player.

Ben Gamel, OF, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Yankees): .313/.375/.375, one 3B, two 2B, 6-for-7 on SB attempts, 18:7 K:BB in 64 AB.

Gamel is repeating Triple-A but he has the hit tool and speed to eventually become fantasy relevant, although it probably won't be with the Yankees. By the time he has proven himself ready for The Show, Dustin Fowler, who is essentially a better version of Gamel, could also be ready. He represents a nice trade chip who could fetch a reliever or serve as the secondary piece in a bigger deal.

Rob Refsnyder, 3B/2B, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Yankees): .190/.262/.241, one 3B, one 2B, 4-for-4 on SB attempts, 6:6 K:BB in 58 AB.

Refsnyder is transitioning down the defensive spectrum to third base, which makes it even less likely that his offensive offerings will ever be appealing to fantasy owners. Like Gamel, it's hard to see him ever being a regular in New York, even given Chase Headley's struggles.

Max Moroff, 2B/3B/SS, Indianapolis (Pirates): .255/.386/.468, two HR, one 3B, two 2B, 17:10 K:BB in 47 AB.

The 22-year-old has seen six starts at second base, five starts at third base and two starts at shortstop this season, which showcases his defensive versatility. He is not a prospect worth rostering in most formats, but as a member of the 40-man roster, he could serve as an injury replacement at several infield positions, and should be heard from by 2017.

OTHERS OF NOTE

Jesus Montero, 1B/DH, Buffalo (Blue Jays): .338/.362/.477, one HR, six 2B, 15:3 K:BB in 65 AB.

Kennys Vargas, 1B/DH, Rochester (Twins): .175/.230/.228, three 2B, 17:4 K:BB in 57 AB.

Mikie Mahtook, OF, Durham (Rays): .315/.362/.519, one HR, three 3B, two 2B, 3-for-3 on SB attempts, 15:4 K:BB in 54 AB.

Erik Gonzalez, SS, Columbus (Indians): .327/.371/.382, three 2B, 2-for-4 on SB attempts, 11:4 K:BB in 55 AB.

Adam Frazier, OF/SS/2B, Indianapolis (Pirates): .255/.371/.294, two 2B, 6-for-8 on SB attempts, 10:9 K:BB in 51 AB.

Wynton Bernard, OF, Toledo (Tigers): .232/.283/.250, one 2B, 5-for-7 on SB attempts, 16:3 K:BB in 56 AB.

Giovanny Urshela, 3B, Columbus (Indians): .200/.226/.317, two HR, one 2B, 11:1 K:BB in 60 AB.

Darnell Sweeney, 2B/OF, Lehigh Valley (Phillies): .220/.292/.441, two HR, two 3B, three 2B, 1-for-4 on SB attempts, 14:5 K:BB in 59 AB.

Brian Goodwin, OF, Syracuse (Nationals): .345/.415/.483, one 3B, six 2B, 2-for-2 on SB attempts, 19:7 K:BB in 58 AB.

Wilfredo Tovar, SS, Rochester (Twins): .292/.358/.333, two 2B, 6-for-8 on SB attempts, 7:3 K:BB in 48 AB.

Jacob May, OF, Charlotte (White Sox): .236/.276/.345, one HR, three 2B, 2-for-2 on SB attempts, 14:2 K:BB in 55 AB.

Nick Franklin, 2B/3B, Durham (Rays): .228/.281/.316, one HR, two 2B, 14:5 K:BB in 57 AB.

Matt Davidson, 3B, Charlotte (White Sox): .221/.321/.426, three HR, five 2B, 27:8 K:BB in 68 AB.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
James Anderson
James Anderson is RotoWire's Lead Prospect Analyst, Assistant Baseball Editor, and co-host of Farm Fridays on Sirius/XM radio and the RotoWire Prospect Podcast.
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